Why Choose Childminding?
Childminders are qualified child carers who work in their own homes caring for children. They make up a significant proportion of the childcare providers for young children in this country. Yet they are not often the first choice for families beginning a search for care for their child, perhaps because parents have understandable concerns; 'Who can ensure they are making my child's day interesting?' 'What if they are favouring another child over mine?' 'What if my child likes her childminder more than me?' Even if these thoughts have passed through your mind, don't reject the idea of using a childminder straight away.
Childminders actually have numerous advantages when compared with other types of childcare, and the vast majority of childminders are hardworking, highly skilled and passionate about what they do. They are a particularly appropriate form of care for very young children, who (research shows) benefit from a calm, home-from-home environment. If it is necessary for your child to be away from you for any part of the working week, they will do best when cared for by a consistent, confident adult on whom they can rely to 'read' and meet their needs. By definition, childminders are not subject to the negative impact of staff turnover that can sometimes occur in day nurseries, (that interrupts such necessary consistency).
Childminders can offer a highly personalised service, flexibly responding to each child's routine and parent's working pattern. It is even possible for some to offer overnight care to children with parents who work shifts. You can expect to pay upwards of Â£3.50 an hour for childminding services, with rates varying considerably across the country. Terms and conditions, such as whether you need to pay a retainer during your holidays, will also vary, so do pay attention to the fine detail of the contract. However, because childminders are Ofsted registered, parents can utilise their entitlement to Child Tax Credits to help manage the cost.
When Not To Choose Childminding...
There is no getting away from the fact that in using a childminder, the risk of their being ill (or their own children being ill and needing to be cared for alone) can mean that they are not able to offer a cast iron guarantee of being available for work week in, week out. So if your employment demands a particularly high level of commitment, childminding may not be the best option for you, so finding a day nursery, or other service that can meet the requirements of your schedule, such as home childcaring, could be a better solution.
What Are Childminders Required To Do?
Many people are surprised to learn that childminders are required by law to meet very similar regulatory standards as day nurseries or pre-schools. They are usually registered on both the compulsory and voluntary parts of the Childcare Register, which together with the Early Years Foundation Stage, provides a substantial framework for all to adhere to. In practice this means that they must produce a range of policies to underpin their work, complete considerable amounts of training, (including child protection and paediatric first aid), and carry out regular written risk assessments. They must also plan for, and provide, activities that promote each child's developmental progress, and keep a record of this progress to share with parents. Ultimately, childminders are professionals who offer much more to children than what we might call 'glorified babysitting'.
How To Find a Childminder
While word of mouth will tell you something about the childminders in your area, your first port of call (in England) should be the Ofsted website, www.ofsted.gov.uk. In Wales, refer to the CCSIW section of the www.wales.gov.uk site and in Scotland, www.careinspectorate.com where both operate similar inspection and reporting regimes.
All registered childminders are inspected and the reports published. You can enter your postcode in the report sections of all sites and you will be provided with a list of inspection reports belonging to providers in your area. They are anonomised, so that only the childminder's registration number appears on the report. All childcare providers are graded on a four point scale; outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate. It probably goes without saying that one should avoid childminders with a judgment of inadequate, but you should not necessarily rule out a childminder with a judgment of satisfactory, as the reasons behind this decision can sometimes be quite technical and not wholly reflect the quality of service on offer. Look closely at the recommendations or actions the inspector set (things the childminder must change or improve) to tell you more about where the weaknesses are.
Your local family information service will furnish you with the contact details of childminders whose reports have impressed you - you just need to give the registration numbers and they can cross-reference. There are now also websites where childminders can advertise their services, but do check they have reached an acceptable standard at inspection.
What To Look For
Going beyond the inspection judgment of any one childminder, it is important that you believe that the childminder you intend to use is the correct 'fit' for your family. It probably goes without saying that choosing care for your child can feel like an onerous task. Asking yourself the following questions will help you to home in on the right person for you:
- Do you have a sense that the childminder is passionate about what she or he does, and has a genuine fondness for young children? Childminding is not the best paid work, and thus most, but not all, do it because they really enjoy it. Make sure this is the case with yours.
- Can she or he confidently share with you how they will deal with emergencies, injuries, child protection concerns and behaviour management issues? Working in isolation means the childminder cannot rely on other members of the team to deal with 'difficult' issues, they must have the confidence to manage these situations alone.
- Can she or he share with you examples of the kind of activities they do with children, through photographs, children's art work or written plans, so you are assured that your child will be engaged with, entertained and supported throughout the day?
- Is she or he comfortable when discussing contractual matters? Undoubtedly parents can develop friendships with their childminder, but the maintenance of some professional boundaries is very necessary over the course of your relationship, should differences of opinion arise.
- Do you have a sense that you, at least in part, share values, ethics and a world-view with the childminder? Trusting that someone will consolidate, not contradict, the principles you are raising your child by, is very important.
- Finally, is he or she willing to allow you to stay and settle your child at a pace of your choosing, and thus be open and honest about how they work? Good practitioners have nothing to hide!
Maintaining a Relationship With The Childminder
Once you begin using the services of a childminder, do all you can to maintain a strong working relationship with him or her. Ensure your child has all the requested food and clothing each time they attend; drop off and collect your child on time; pay your bills promptly, and critically, take the time to exchange information about your child (their current interests, any significant events, such as the loss of a grandparent or the impending arrival of a new sibling), so that your child enjoys a high level of continuity of care.